A court here Monday ordered the state vigilance department to launch a fresh probe in the role of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy in the infamous 1992 palm oil import case when he was Kerala’s finance minister.
The import of 15,000 tonnes of palm oil was undertaken in 1992. The case was registered in 1999 when the Communists led by E.K. Nayanar were in power. The vigilance department had earlier submitted a report stating that there was nothing that could indict Chandy in the case.
When Special Vigilance Court judge P.K. Haneefa Monday gave the order, Chandy was busy in his conference hall discussing about the developments of the three airports in the state.
Soon, with the news spreading about the court directive, his cabinet colleagues and party leaders made a beeline to his office.
Standing with his cabinet and party colleagues at the state secretariat, Chandy said: “I welcome the verdict. Let the next probe start and we will cooperate as we have done before… I have nothing to hide, I welcome this and let the probe begin.”
Former chief minister K. Karunakaran, then food minister T.H. Mustafa and bureaucrats P.J. Thomas and Jiji Thompson were charged with causing a loss of Rs.2.32 crore by importing oil from Malaysia at an enhanced price.
The case was reopened earlier this year by the then Left government under V.S. Achuthanandan after Mustafa filed a petition asking the court that he also be allowed to go free as Chandy has not been named in the case.
Soon, the state government ordered a hurried investigation and the vigilance department submitted the report giving a clean chit to Chandy on May 13 — the day the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) won the assembly polls.
The court Monday asked for a re-investigation to specifically look if Chandy had any role in the import deal and asked the department to submit the report in three months.
Leader of Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan was quick to react and asked for Chandy’s resignation.”… with today’s verdict, he will have to go. We will now hear what he has to say,” the Marxist leader said.
Emerging after a 90-minute discussion with his colleagues, state Congress president Ramesh Chennithala said the verdict appears strange.”We never said anything when that probe was announced. There has been no indictment on Chandy and there’s no word that he is an accused. The only thing that happened has been a re-investigation and we will face it and the question of a resignation does not arise at all,” said Chennithala.
Former home minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that in the light of the court ordering a fresh probe by the same vigilance department and the same official, it will not be very helpful.
“The present vigilance department director should be asked to go. With Chandy himself holding the vigilance portfolio, he should give up the vigilance portfolio. It must be recalled that former central vigilance commissioner P.J. Thomas had to step down because he is an accused in the case,” said Balakrishnan.
Meanwhile, Chandy was awaiting the arrival of the advocate general.